POCATELLO — There’s a new duo in town undertaking a massive renovation project in Pocatello’s Historic Warehouse District.
Kelly Rae and Pamela Haberman of HabeRae Homes and Development are turning the long-vacant warehouse at 609 S. First Ave. right next to Portneuf Valley Brewing into a mixed-use building with seven residential lofts, an art studio for budding local artists, a residential lounge and an events center that will be donated to Idaho State University to use for whatever off-campus gatherings it wants.
“We’re donating over 3,000 square feet on this floor to any kind of event that Idaho State University wants to use it for,” Rae said. “They need a place to have events, be it awards ceremonies, alumni get-togethers, pre-football stuff, pre-basketball stuff, anything they want to use it for. We’re saying, ‘Here it is,’ and it’s free.”
HabeRae is based in Reno, Nevada, but Rae graduated from ISU in 1982 and is still highly invested in the school and in the community — thus the decision to give back to the institution that she says changed her life.
“Why Pocatello? Because it’s in my heart,” Rae said. “This place saved me when I was 18 years old.”
Rae and Haberman, who have known each other for four decades, recently hosted an open house for the community to come check out the still mostly untouched 12,000-square-foot former Hanson Janitorial Supply Co., which was built in approximately 1926.
Several dozen people showed up, and there was one emotion evident in all attendees: excitement.
“These ladies have done magnificent jobs everywhere they go,” said one woman in attendance.
Rae said she was pretty sure Pocatello has never seen this kind of massive renovation, especially one that is being done so fast. When it’s finished in July or August, HabeRae will host another open house for the community to see the completed project.
The project will be solely financed by HabeRae’s cash reserves, and the development company will be using all local contractors.
Rae and Haberman said it’s not a complete certainty that their plans for the project will go through. They have to get approval from two local entities first. They will present their plans to the Pocatello Planning & Zoning Commission on Nov. 13 with and to the Pocatello City Council on Dec. 5.
“We do not anticipate any hiccups but one never knows what issues may come up,” they said in an email with the Journal.
Rae said her company has a passion for renovating what is known in the industry as voodoo properties — basically buildings that are so run down, they are considered a lost cause, so they are left vacant on the market for years and years. That’s when HabeRae steps in and brings those “dead” buildings back to life.
“A voodoo property is one that’s sat vacant for many years and nobody wants anything to do with it,” Rae said. “It needs a lot of help. It needs us.”
The Pocatello development is a type of project called “urban infill.” According to the National League of Cities’ website, “Urban infill is defined as new development that is sited on vacant or undeveloped land within an existing community and that is enclosed by other types of development.
The location of the building was key in Rae and Haberman’s decision to buy the building — it’s three blocks to ISU, close to Old Town Pocatello and also right next to a brewery, with another one just seven blocks away.
“To us, that’s a perfect location to reinvent Pocatello, Idaho, if you will, as a place to live in an urban setting,” Rae said. “For anybody that wants to live down here, this Historic Warehouse District, we feel, is so beautiful with these buildings. That really was the location we thought was just perfect.”
According to a handout given to attendees of the open house, “Pocatello and the outlying area of Chubbuck have experienced significant residential and commercial growth in the last few years. However, none of the growth has been incorporated into a slated urban area. The potential growth of Pocatello’s most interesting urban area (the Historic Warehouse District) is crucial to the younger demographic moving into the Pocatello area for work and for higher education.”
While the building will be basically gutted, adding two sets of stairs and eliminating walls, a ceiling and an old elevator, HabeRae is committed to maintaining as much of the building’s historic charm as possible.
According to the HabeRae website, “We will resurrect this two-story brick beauty back to its former glory and the lucky few who live there will enjoy modern, sleek kitchens and baths, open concept living, and every convenience inside their spacious home. Meanwhile, we will keep the building true to its roots by incorporating the existing wood floors, exposed brick and beams, and making the most of its city and mountain views.”
Four of the second-floor apartments will be an average of 838 square feet with one bedroom, one bathroom and an office space. Those apartments will only have windows on the north side, so HabeRae will be adding skylights to those units as well. The two end units upstairs will be 990 and 845 square feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom. In addition, there will be a 430-square-foot, ADA-accessible studio apartment on the first floor. When completed, Haberman said the apartments will likely be rented out for between $800 and $900 per month, and all utilities will be included with the cost of rent.
“I think it’s going to be a winner,” Rae said of the project.
HabeRae is not new to this kind of renovation. Some of their other major projects include: turning a 60-year-old hotel into 21 affordable studio apartments for graduate students; turning a 60-year-old Salvation Army Warehouse into ten two-bedroom, one bathroom loft apartments; turning a 70-year-old commercial laundry building into 11 residences, a cafe and an art studio; and turning a 50-year-old fire station into nine apartments, a salon and a cafe.
That’s just a sampling of that they have done. Since the company started in 1998, HabeRae has renovated more than 250 properties in Reno, San Diego and Palm Springs, California, and they have built 24 new homes in Reno.
“If you do the math on it, it comes out to one unit every 43.6 days,” Rae said.
Rae said about six of those projects have been similar to what they’re doing to the warehouse in Pocatello.
“Six in 10 years is a lot,” Rae said. “These are big projects.”
Haberman added, “It’s no lipstick on a pig.”
The development company has won several awards for their work in Reno, including Mayor’s Choice Award, Green Building Award, Historic Preservation Award and Best Local Innovation Award.
Haberman said the work HabeRae has done has inspired others to do the same thing, which is great, she said, but means that in Reno there are fewer and fewer buildings her company can work on. They already have their eyes on several more buildings in Pocatello’s Warehouse District.